Straws have become the environment’s number one enemy. Bars and restaurants are banning them faster than the time it takes to down a shot. Although this simple tube has shone a spotlight on sustainability in the hospitality industry, there are several establishments where banning straws is just a small taste of how they’re working towards becoming minimal-waste drinking establishments.
Classic cocktails, which require a lot of citrus—and a lot of fruit waste —also get a minimal-waste makeover. Hamic says they’re experimenting with creating a “nonperishable citrus juice,” which replicates its freshly squeezed counterpart, in order to utilize all parts of the fruit. He zests a lime, distill those peels and extract the oils. The leftover shell of the lime and zest are boiled together in water, creating what is basically a citrus stock. The essential oils are then added back in to give the same properties as juice. Hamic is still tinkering with the process, but the goal is “a customer won’t be able to taste the difference and not know there’s not actual lime juice in there.”
It’s like that one day you learn to cut the rings out of a six pack. You see that once and think, I should have been doing that my entire life.
For all their innovation, The Perennial hopes they aren't the best in the industry at what they do. “I’ve said this one hundred times: the immediate goal was to hopefully find someone who was smarter, could do this better, have better ideas and could take what we’re doing to a place we haven’t figured out yet,” says Hamic. Although they’re leading the sustainability race, they don’t want to win the marathon.A dance club seems like an unlikely pioneer in the zero-waste movement, but Honeycut in Los Angeles is breaking the models-and-bottles stereotype. The venue opened in 2013 with traditional operational practices in place, but, “because we’re so high volume, we felt irresponsible about the amount of trash we were disposing of on a nightly basis,” says Dave Fernie, director of operations. They quickly eliminated bottled water and beer and began exploring other ways to cut down on rubbish.
Like at The Perennial, fruit waste was a big concern. To combat the issue, Honeycut took a hard analytical look at where all the fruit went, “dialed in the amount of everything we make,” says Fernie, and now utilize a dehydrate for leftover wedges, resulting in candy-like pieces to adorn glasses on another night.
Water conservation is a huge priority for the bar. “We felt pretty weird about the amount we were wasting,” admits Fernie. Leftover ice is typically “burned”—essentially, hot water is run over the ice to melt it—which not only wastes water, but requires gas or electricity to heat the water. As a solution, they now use reclaimed water in a multitude of ways. Less filtered H2O is used for cleaning the venue, while the highly filtered water makes it way into drinking water, ice cubes, or simple syrups.
Not content with just following sustainable practices in the bar, they recently started a juice commissary to make sustainability more turnkey for other establishments. Fernie recognizes that other bars have interest in converting their practices, but “at the end of the day, it’s a lot easier to do the easy shit and not really care,” he says. The bar is working directly with local farmers to buy the “ugly fruit” that the growers can’t sell elsewhere. Their lineup currently includes several fruit juices, demerara gum, simple, and ginger syrups and ginger beer.As of August, they expect to have about 16-30 accounts, including food outlets at Los Angeles International Airport.
Staniszeski is already looking to other communities, such as nearby Nashville, for inspiration. “It’s like that one day you learn to cut the rings out of a six pack,” he says. “You see that once and think, I should have been doing that my entire life. Now’s a great time to go out and drink cocktails and see what people are doing.”
There is the fine balance between raising awareness and being preachy. Both Hamic and Fernie say they don’t discuss their practices with guests unless directly asked, but both establishments proudly proclaim their sustainability commitments on their respective websites. “At this volume [of business] we can’t hand-sell to someone,” says Fernie. “So we’re left in this no-man’s land of creating and developing something [new], but at the end of the day providing an experience our guests can get their heads around.” It does create a conundrum: how loudly do you need to beat the drum in order to stir up change while still practicing good hospitality?
Hamic counts on today’s societal climate to help bring awareness to their work. “I think it’s hitting a lot of people, when we consider the current political environment. It’s strange to mention that this is a politically based operation, as far as restaurants go, but it is. Environmental stewardship is now a partisan issue, and I think that a lot of people are grasping that if they actually care they need to do more instead of just letting other people take care of it.”